The Armory Show has always been a quintessentially New York affair. From its gritty beginnings in 1994 at the Gramercy Park Hotel (long before the building’s svelte Ian Schrager revamp) to its latest iteration, which opens to VIPs today, it has retained a no-nonsense focus on servicing the city’s best dealers and collectors—and acting as a major entry point to the North American market for international galleries as well.
Now in its 17th edition, the fair is on an upswing from when, like many things in New York in the years surrounding the 2008 crash, things had gotten a little out of hand. “I think a lot of people lost confidence or faith in what the fair was standing for and what direction it was heading in,” says Armory director of four years Noah Horowitz, sitting in his midtown office a week before the opening. Exhibitor numbers hit a high of 280 in 2010. That’s more than Art Basel in Miami Beach—in much less space.
In the years since Horowitz took over in 2012, a drastic culling of the herd has taken place in step with a much-needed redesign of the booths available to exhibitors. This year marks the Armory Show’s smallest edition in many years, with only 199 galleries participating. It follows with a change in thinking across the art fair landscape, which has seen directors opt for a ‘less is more’ approach to provide a more exhibition-like environment and improve sales performance at each stand.
From my perusal of the fair during install on Tuesday, stands are larger and more ambitious in their presentations than ever before. Some, like Galerie Thomas Schulte
’s solo presentation of Berlin-based artist Michael Müller
or Armory returnee kamel mennour
’s retrospective show of French conceptual art legend Daniel Buren
(he’ll be on site all week), are more worthy of a white cube than a whitewashed fair cubicle. Those who have more recently associated curatorially-driven booths with Frieze’s Randall’s Island tent, would do well to come give Piers 92 & 94 another look.